Scarlet Street is a 1945 noir tragedy film directed by Fritz Lang. The screenplay concerns two criminals who take advantage of a middle-aged painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Produced by||Walter Wanger|
|Screenplay by||Dudley Nichols|
|Based on||La Chienne|
1931 novel and play
by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel)
André Mouézy-Éon (play)
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson|
|Music by||Hans J. Salter|
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Edited by||Arthur Hilton|
Walter Wanger Productions
Fritz Lang Productions
Diana Production Company
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944), also directed by Fritz Lang. Local authorities in three cities (New York, Milwaukee, and Atlanta) banned Scarlet Street early in 1946 because of its dark plot and themes.
Christopher "Chris" Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a meek amateur painter and cashier for a clothing retailer, is fêted by his employer for twenty-five years of service. After company head J.J. Hogarth presents Chris with a gold watch and kind words, Hogarth leaves the party and gets into a car with a beautiful young blonde. Chris muses to an associate about his desire to be loved by a young woman like that.
Walking home through Greenwich Village, Chris sees a young woman, Katherine "Kitty" March (Joan Bennett), being attacked, and he knocks her assailant unconscious with his umbrella. Chris, unaware that the attacker is Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty's boyfriend, summons a nearby policeman, but Johnny regains consciousness and flees. After Chris walks Kitty to her apartment building, she accepts his offer of a cup of coffee at a nearby bar. From Chris's comments about art, Kitty mistakes him for a wealthy painter.
Chris becomes enamored of Kitty. He is stuck in a loveless marriage with his shrewish wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who idolizes her previous husband, a policeman believed drowned in the East River while trying to rescue a suicidal woman. After Chris confesses to Kitty that he is married, Johnny convinces Kitty to feign a romantic interest in Chris to swindle money from him. Kitty inveigles Chris to rent her an apartment which doubles as his art studio. To finance the apartment, Chris steals $500 in insurance bonds from his wife and later $1000 cash from his employer.
Unknown to Chris, Johnny tries selling some of his paintings, leaving them with a Greenwich village street vendor who thinks them worth no more than $25. They unexpectedly attract the interest of art critic David Janeway (Jess Barker), who believes them to be exceptional art. After Johnny persuades Kitty to pretend that she painted them, she charms Janeway with Chris's own descriptions of his art. Captivated by the paintings and by Kitty, Janeway promises to represent her. However, Adele sees her husband's paintings—signed "Katherine March"—for sale in the window of a commercial art gallery and accuses Chris of copying March's work. Chris confronts Kitty, who claims she sold them because she needed the money. He is so delighted that his paintings are appreciated, albeit under a ruse, that he happily lets her become the public face of his art. She becomes a huge commercial success, although Chris never receives any of the money.
Adele's supposedly dead first husband, Higgins (Charles Kemper), suddenly appears at Chris's office to extort money from him. Higgins explains he did not drown, but disappeared after stealing $2,700 from the purse of the suicidal woman he tried to save. Already suspected of taking bribes from speakeasies, he faked his death to escape his crimes and his wife. Chris steals another $200 from his boss for Higgins. He then lets Higgins into Adele's room—ostensibly to pilfer the insurance money Adele received after his supposed death—aware she is asleep in the room; Chris assumes that his marriage will be invalidated when his wife wakes and sees her first husband is still alive.
Chris goes to see Kitty, believing he is now free to marry her. Instead he finds Johnny and Kitty in an embrace, confirming his suspicions that they are romantically involved. Believing that she has only a fleeting infatuation for Johnny, Chris asks Kitty to marry him; she spurns him for being old and ugly and laughs in his face. Enraged, he stabs her to death with an ice pick. The police visit Chris for embezzling money from his employer. Although his boss refuses to press charges, Chris is fired. Johnny is arrested for Kitty's murder.
At the trial, all of Johnny's small-time hustling and deceptions work against him. Despite his attempt to implicate Chris in Kitty's murder, Chris denies painting the pictures, claiming to be an untalented artist. Several witnesses confirm Chris's testimony and attest to Johnny's misdeeds and bad character. Johnny is convicted and put to death for Kitty's murder, Chris goes unpunished, and Kitty is erroneously immortalized as a great artist.
Haunted by the murder, Chris attempts to hang himself on the night of Johnny's execution, but is rescued. Several years later, he has become homeless and destitute, with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings, one of which has now been sold for $10,000. Tormented by thoughts of Kitty and Johnny loving each other eternally, Chris wanders New York, constantly hearing their voices in his mind.
- Edward G. Robinson as Christopher Cross
- Joan Bennett as Katherine 'Kitty' March
- Dan Duryea as Johnny Prince
- Margaret Lindsay as Millie Ray
- Rosalind Ivan as Adele Cross
- Jess Barker as David Janeway
- Charles Kemper as Patch-eye Higgins
- Anita Sharp-Bolster as Mrs. Michaels (as Anita Bolster)
- Samuel S. Hinds as Charles Pringle
- Vladimir Sokoloff as Pop LeJon
- Arthur Loft as Delarowe
- Russell Hicks as J.J. Hogarth
Scarlet Street reunited director Fritz Lang with actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who had worked with him in The Woman in the Window (1944). The film was based on the French novel La Chienne (literally The Bitch) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir. Lang's 1954 film Human Desire was based on another Renoir film La Bête humaine (1938), which was based on Émile Zola's novel on the same name. Renoir was said to have disliked both of Lang's films.
Scarlet Street is similar to The Woman in the Window in themes, cast, crew and characters. Robinson plays a lonely middle-aged man as he did in the earlier film and Bennett and Duryea play the criminal elements again. Both films were photographed by Milton R. Krasner. Walter Wanger, who produced the film, had earlier produced Lang's 1937 film You Only Live Once.
Despite being considered a classic of film noir along with Lang's earlier film The Woman in the Window, Robinson, who noticed the thematic similarities between the two, found Scarlet Street monotonous to do and couldn't wait to finish it and move on to other projects. Robinson disliked making the former film as well.
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times critic, gave the film a mixed review. He wrote, "But for those who are looking for drama of a firm and incisive sort, Scarlet Street is not likely to furnish a particularly rare experience. Dudley Nichols wrote the story from a French original, in which it might well have had a stinging and grisly vitality. In this presentation, however, it seems a sluggish and manufactured tale, emerging much more from sheer contrivance than from the passions of the characters involved. And the slight twist of tension which tightens around the principal character is lost in the middle of the picture when he is shelved for a dull stretch of plot. In the role of the love-blighted cashier Edward G. Robinson performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air. And, as the girl whom he loves, Joan Bennett is static and colorless, completely lacking the malevolence that should flash in her evil role. Only Dan Duryea as her boy friend hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets."
A review in Variety magazine included: "Fritz Lang's production and direction ably project the sordid tale of the romance between a milquetoast character and a gold-digging blonde ... Edward G. Robinson is the mild cashier and amateur painter whose love for Joan Bennett leads him to embezzlement, murder and disgrace. Two stars turn in top work to keep the interest high, and Dan Duryea's portrayal of the crafty and crooked opportunist whom Bennett loves is a standout in furthering the melodrama."
More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Scarlet Street is a bleak psychological film noir that has the same leading actors as his 1944 film The Woman in the Window. It sets a long-standing trend of a criminal not punished for his crime; this is the first Hollywood film where that happened ... The Edward G. Robinson character is viewed as an ordinary man who is influenced by an evil couple who take advantage of his vulnerability and lead him down an amoral road where he eventually in a passionate moment loses his head and commits murder. Chris's imagination can no longer save him from his dreadful existence, and his complete downfall comes about as the talented artist loses track of reality and his dignity."
In 1995, Matthew Bernstein wrote in Cinema Journal: "The film is a dense, well-structured film noir and has been analyzed and interpreted numerous times. Some of the earliest interpretations came from censors in three different cities," adding:
On January 4, 1946, the New York State Censor Board banned Scarlet Street entirely, relying on the statute that gave it power to censor films that were "obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, sacrilegious" or whose exhibition "would tend to corrupt morals or incite to crime." As if in a chain reaction, one week later the Motion Picture Commission for the city of Milwaukee also banned the film as part of a new policy encouraged by police for "stricter regulation of undesirable films." On February 3 Christina Smith, the city censor of Atlanta, argued that because of "the sordid life it portrayed, the treatment of illicit love, the failure of the characters to receive orthodox punishment from the police, and because the picture would tend to weaken a respect for the law," Scarlet Street was "licentious, profane, obscure and contrary to the good order of the community."... Universal was discouraged from challenging the constitutionality of the censors by the protests of the national religious groups that arose as the Atlanta case went to court.
- Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p443
- A Divided World: Hollywood Cinema and Emigré Directors in the Era of Roosevelt and Hitler, 1933-1948. Intellect. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2019 – via Google Books.
- Karney, Robin. "Scarlet Street". www.radiotimes.com. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
The script, unfortunately, tends to run out of control and strain credibility, but there are shades of the pathetic professor, ruined by unsuitable passion in The Blue Angel, in the tragedy that befalls Robinson.
- "Scarlet Street". www.siff.net. 24 July 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
In this noir classic, milquetoast cashier Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) becomes an accidental hero when he rescues young Kitty March (Joan Bennett), from a would-be attacker. The sap doesn’t realize he’s stumbled upon a dust-up between a hooker and her pimp (Dan Duryea) and before long the devious duo is playing him for a prize chump. It can only end in tragedy.
- Scarlet Street on IMDb
- Matthew Bernstein, "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal (Autumn 1995), 27-52.
- Rapold, Nicolas (14 February 2014). "Even Good Films May Go to Purgatory: Old Films Fall Into Public Domain Under Copyright Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
- Murray, Noel (23 November 2005). "Scarlet Street & House By The River". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
- "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 15, 1946. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
- Variety. Film review, 1945. Last accessed: April 11, 2008.
- Cinema: The New Pictures, Jan. 21, 1946
- Schwartz, Dennis "An uncompromising subversive remake of Jean Renoir's La Chienne (1931)". Film review at Ozus' World Movie Reviews, February 13, 2003. Accessed: June 20, 2013.
- Bernstein, Matthew (Autumn 1995). "A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street". Cinema Journal., pp. 27-52.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.
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